In April I’ve attended conferences in Zurich (European Association of Organizational Health Psychology) and San Diego California (Society of Industrial Organizational Psychology).
Both events were occasions for entering a temporary community. An international conference brings together people with a shared interest at a location far from home. The outside world fades into the background. People shamelessly engage in conversations about the technical nuances of their work. They need not worry about boring the uninitiated because they are in the company of those who share their world.
The oral presentation sessions develop focus. People condense a three year research program into 10 minutes accompanied by power points. Over the years at which I’ve been attending conferences, the quality of these talks have improved overall. They have developed their own pace and syntax. Once someone starts talking, the audience has a good idea how the ideas will develop. Dialogue is sparse, with a few exchanges at the end of the session.
Poster presentations offer a contrast. They are an opportunity to have a brief conversation with the author who stands by the display waiting for someone to ask a question or share an insight. They are a great break after a few hours of listening to talks.
But the conversations at receptions and meals provide the liveliest part of the conference experience. People develop collaborations and plan book contracts or explore new jobs. They develop bits and pieces of the future.
Making the most of a conference is to participate in a community. It is important to meet new people, to remember their names, and to encounter new ideas. It calls for action.